Monday, October 29, 2012

Austin Food Highlights: Part 2

Hope everyone affected by Hurricane Sandy is safe and secure! I'm typing as fast as I can before the power goes out...

This is where I go a little out of chronological order in my trip, since I am saving the best for last.

Breakfast taco from Wholly Cow:

I have been told that the breakfast taco is to Texas as the cheesesteak is to Philadelphia.  Which I have to agree because it really is ubiquitous in Austin.  Though a more apt analogy is is the breakfast taco is to Texas as the egg and cheese on a roll is to NYC, in keeping with the breakfast theme.  The breakfast taco really is everywhere you go in mornings, coffee shops, food trucks, fast food joints.  In fact, we got ours from Wholly Cow, which is actually a burger joint that serves local grass-fed beef burgers near our hotel.  (We went there because it was the first place we stumbled upon that had them). What was a little disappointing was it took a while to get our tacos after we ordered them, apparently the place was quite busy filling takeout orders that it took about 20 minutes to get ours.  But once our tacos were brought to us, they were great.  This is a chorizo taco with eggs, potatoes and cheese.  The stuff you see dripping on the end was red salsa.

Chalupas from Juan in a Million

I will admit my ignorance; before coming to Juan in a Million, the only chalupas I have ever encountered were the Taco Bell version, which are effectively tacos with a crunchy shell.  I didn't realize that chalupas are actually tostadas, which is something I am familiar with, Although you can tell from under the mountain of lettuce and cheese, these were bean and beef chalupas, which were very good.  My favorite item, although not pictured here, was the salsa that came with the chips before our food came out.  Most of the time, when you go to Mexican restaurants, the chips and salsa are just as ordinary as the bread and butter that comes out before the meal in American restaurants.  But this salsa was special, spicy and fiery, making it unlike any other restaurant salsa that I've ever had. 

Ribeye Steak from Hoffbrau Steakhouse

Don't let the picture fool you - as plain as this steak may appear, it was out of this world.  Just like this steak, when you first walk into Hoffbrau, you will notice its humble atmosphere, the room was un-airconditioned, the tables are covered in vinyl checkered tablecloths.  It basically looks as if it hasn't changed since it first opened in 1934.  The waitresses were friendly, but with a no-nonsense attitude - they take pride in the fact that they have no menus, simply a piece of paper on each table slid into one of those plastic holders normally reserved for the daily specials or a drink menu.  But the food is great.  Their "Take it or Leave it" Salad is dressed with a garlic dressing so sharp it has a bite to it.  The steak was bathed in a lemon butter sauce as you can see here, and served with a side of potato wedges.

Frito Pie from Doc's Motorworks Bar and Grill

Before I came to Austin, I knew that Texans took pride in their chili, which has a strict no-beans prohibition.  So of course, I wanted to try it.  And if I got to try "Frito Pie,"  which is Texas chili on top of Fritos, another Texan product, even better.  During my last full day in Austin, I realized it was the last item on my list to try, but oddly I had trouble finding any places near where I was serving them. Google searches on my phone for "Texas chili" kept bringing me to locations for Chili's, the chain restaurant.  Finally, I came across it while having drinks at Doc's Motorworks.  While it made for a good snack, this version of it was mostly cheese and toppings, that I felt I was only getting accents of chili.  So one day, I will have to try again to get the full Texas chili experience.

You may be wondering, where's the barbecue? Don't you know that Texas has great barbecue?  What about the Salt Lick?  Well, I've saved the best for last, but that will have to wait for another post.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Austin Food Highlights: Part 1

J. and I just came back from our lovely trip in Austin, TX -  and just in time for Hurricane Sandy to hit the Northeast!  There was  A LOT of amazing food in Austin - the majority of my pictures were of food, and not much else! So I've divided the trip into multiple parts to make it more manageable to read (and for me to write).

Before the trip, I garnered tips from friends, acquaintances, the internet, and food blogs, and made a list (yes, I made a list) of all the food places I wanted to try, categorized by cuisine and setting (i.e. fast food, or sit-down restaurant).  In essence, most of the restaurants fell into four categories:

1) Mexican/ Tex-Mex - (I read from the Homesick Texan, that Mexican food in Texas is essentially Tex-Mex.  I've never been to Mexico, so I can't really make an assessment on that.  All I knew is that the food is deliciosa).

2) Southern (e.g. chicken fried steak, biscuits, etc)

3) BBQ

4) Steak (in my book, steak has its own category)

Arguably, the last three could be clumped together, or be subcategories of "Southern" - but this was my list, so this is how I organized it.

First stop: Breakfast at Biscuits and Groovy.  I first learned about this cheerful food stop through my friend Molly.  I love biscuits and gravy when I first had them in North Carolina about two years ago, so I was excited to try the Texas version of it.  I was not disappointed.  What is neat about this place is that they have a  mix tape trade and most of the menu items are named after famous music celebrities.  I chose the classic Biscuits and Groovy:

J. had the "Gloria Gaynor"

All the food is prepared to order in a little trailer and the guy (presumably the owner) was very friendly.  The portions were also very generous, so we were full well beyond lunch time.  Which brings me to our next stop;

Fried Chicken at Ms. P's Electric Cock

Also served from a food truck (food trucks are a thing in Austin).  The fried chicken was almost unbelievably juicy and succulent - it rivals the fried chicken at Soul Flavors in Jersey City, now for the best fried chicken I've ever had.  The mac and cheese, next to it, was also good, very rich and decadent.  Even the roll was special in that it was slightly sweet, whereas at fried chicken places in "the North" the roll is more of an afterthought.

Dinner at Hoover's Cooking

Pictured here are BBQ pork ribs, seasoned green beans, corn on the cob, chicken fried steak, and jalapeno corn bread and sweet potato biscuits.  My favorites were definitely the meats - but the sweet potato biscuits were interesting.  They were sweet and glorious when slathered with butter.  I never would have thought to make biscuits with sweet potatoes.

Believe it or not, this was just Day 1 of our trip to Austin.  Like I said, there is a lot of amazing food in this city, so stay tuned!

Note:  As always, I was not compensated by any establishments in my reviews.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Spicy Acorn Squash Soup

I swear this is not baby food.  This was supposed to be pumpkin soup.  But apparently, I don't know my squashes, and bought an acorn squash by mistake.  Don't make this with acorn squash.  Not just because it will make it this funky color, but because acorn squash, with its ridges, is a pain to peel.

I should have stopped after I first attempted to peel the squash with the vegetable peeler.  Or even after I broke out the very sharp paring knife to carve the skin out of the ridges.  But instead twenty-five minutes and two band-aids later, I had a peeled acorn squash, which I cut up into chunks and dropped into the slow cooker.

The flavor of this is soup is actually not bad.  I added extra spice and used fresh grated ginger to make it extra spicy.  The dollop of sour cream at the end was cooling and creamy.  I would make this again, except with a nice, smooth, ridgeless pumpkin.  And save the acorn squash for roasting and eating with butter and brown sugar.

Spicy Acorn Squash Soup
Adapted from Best Ever Recipes for Your Slow Cooker

1 acorn squash, peeled and cut into chunks (but really, you shouldn't make this with an acorn squash, unless you want to risk the bloody fingers)
1 leek, cut into chunks
2 cloves garlic, crushed through a garlic press
2 tsp cumin
2 tsp fresh grated ginger, and 1 tsp ground ginger
3 cups low-sodium chicken broth
2 Tbs olive oil
pinch of cayenne pepper
pinch of nutmeg
1 tsp chili powder
2 teaspoons brown sugar
salt and pepper to taste
sour cream as garnish

Place squash chunks into stoneware insert of the slow cooker. Over the stovetop, heat oil in a large pan.  Add leeks and garlic and cook until they start soften, about two minutes or so.  Then add fresh grated ginger and cumin and cook for another minute or so.  Transfer to stoneware and season with salt, pepper, nutmeg, and cayenne pepper. Add chicken broth.  Cook on low for 6-8 hours, or until the squash is soft and tender.

Ladle soup in batches to blender and puree until smooth.  (Or if you have an immersion blender, good for you!) Transfer soup back to the stoneware.  This is where I tasted and found the soup kind of bland, so I added ground ginger, chili powder, more cumin, and more cayenne pepper.  You could probably do this before cooking the squash.  I don't think it makes a difference. Cook on high for 1 hour.

Ladle into bowls and garnish with sour cream.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Apple and Cranberry Softies

My friend, Rosann, invited me to guest post at her food blog - Just Prepare It Deliciously.  Check out my Apple and Cranberry Softies, where I explore low-calorie baking (each cookie is 107 calories!)

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Italian Sausage and Peppers - Two Ways

After we came back from Chicago, J. bought two long links of sweet Italian sausage from Moloney's Meat Market in Jersey City.  It was my job to figure out what to do with them.  I had never cooked with Italian sausage before but I love to get sausage and peppers at street festivals.  So I made two variations, pasta and sandwich, over the course of two nights.  Both are essentially the same ingredients, but tweaks in the method.  My preferred method is the sandwich version because the roll does a better job soaking up the juices.

Night 1: Sausage and Pepper Pasta (pictured above)

1 10 inch link of sweet Italian sausage, sliced at angle.  (I didn't remove the casing, you really should)
1/2 green bell pepper, chopped into bite-size pieces
1/2 red bell pepper, chopped into bite-size pieces
handful of grape tomatoes, sliced in half
1/2 onion, finely chopped
1 clove of garlic minced
1/2 pound of whole-wheat penne pasta
parmesan cheese for sprinkling at the end
1 T and 1 tsp (separated) olive oil

1. Start boiling water for pasta.  When it reaches a rolling boil, drop in pasta and cook according to the directions on the box. Reserve about 1/3 cup of pasta water for later.  Drain pasta.

2. Meanwhile, heat olive oil in a large skillet.  Cook sausage slices until browned. Set aside

3. Return pan to heat. (add a little more oil if necessary).  Add red and green peppers and onion. Cook until they start to brown.  Push the vegetables to the edges of the pan, and in the empty space in the middle, add 1 tsp of oil and minced garlic.  Cook for about 30 seconds or until fragrant, and stir the garlic with the rest of the mixture.  Add grape tomatoes. Cook for about another minute or two.

4.  Add cooked pasta, and reserved cooking water to the pan and toss.

5.  Sprinkled parmesan cheese on top and serve.

Makes about two servings

Night 2: Sausage and Pepper Sandwiches

Same ingredients as above, except swap the pasta for two rolls, and omit the tomatoes.  We bought rolls from the bodega around the corner from us.  They came from one of those plastic bins that you fish out the rolls with tongs.  The bin didn't have a label, but I think they are portuguese rolls.  Also instead of chopping and mincing the vegetables into small pieces, I simply sliced them so they would be easier to eat in a roll.

Cook the sausage and vegetables the same way as above.  But instead of mixing it with pasta, spoon it in to rolls.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Chicago Food Highlights

J. and I took a weekend trip to Chicago.  We had limited time, about 30 hours or so in city.  So I had three food-related goals:

1) Have a Chicago-style hot dog
2) Eat at a Chicago steakhouse
3) Try deep-dish pizza
So here goes!

First stop, Chicago-style hot dog.   I had done some research on Chicago-style hot dogs before the trip and well, it turns out I don't like pickles, hot peppers, mustard, onions, or anything that goes in a Chicago-style dog.  But I was still determined to try a hot dog in Chicago.  So after a turbulent flight and landing, and checking into the hotel, we stumbled upon this place:

It had a sign claiming to have been "voted #1 hot dog in Chicago", so this place was as good as any other.  I found out that this is a local Chicago chain.  Its founders are two brothers that traveled the nation in search of hot dogs in every city.  Hence the name "America's Dog."   On the menu, they have a different hot dog representing a different American city.  So I had the Memphis Dog, which had pulled pork and coleslaw....

It was pretty tasty, even if it's not a "Chicago-style" dog in its own right.  But I had a hot dog in Chicago, so that makes it a Chicago dog, right?

To be fair, J. had a real Chicago-style hot dog, which he enjoyed. 

Next stop, eat a a Chicago steakhouse.  While exploring the downtown area of the city, we came upon Harry Caray's Italian Steakhouse.  J. informed me that Harry Caray was a famous announcer for the Chicago Cubs, and a Chicago personality. I had no idea.  But the filet mignon was nice and juicy, and cooked medium-rare just the way I like it. 

Also, another neat tidbit about the place is, if you drink at the bar (we did in the afternoon before dinner), they give you complimentary (and highly addictive) house-made potato chips!  

The next morning, we took a walk off the well-beaten path to the Maxwell Street Market.  I had read about this weekly Sunday market from the Paupered Chef and learned that it was essentially a flea market, but with really good food. So I knew to not be put off by rows and rows of tables selling used merchandise from baby clothes, to power tools, to knock-off sports jerseys.  (Incidentally, J. bought a Chicago Bears jersey, while I got myself a pair of knock-off DG sunglasses.).  Here are the cheese enchiladas we had for breakfast:

The vendors, spoke little English, and we ate off of a paper bowl on bright green plastic tablecloths (as you can see in this picture).  So you knew it had to be good.  This wasn't one of the my three goals, but I was glad we made this stop!

But no trip to Chicago is complete without Chicago-style deep dish pizza...

This pizza came from the Exchequer Pub. On the day we were there, their exhaust fan was broken, so they had a limited menu, mainly pizza, which worked out quite well for me.  You can't see it too well from the picture, but there was pepperonis, sausage, and bacon in this pizza.  Also don't be fooled by the size in the picture.  This was  A LOT of food.  The pizza was about 10 inches in diameter and about 3 inches thick.  J and I shared it for lunch, and still had some leftover to bring with us on the plane.  (Which I ate at the airport since our flight was delayed.  It's still good cold, despite its brick-like consistency)

So that concludes our whirlwind food tour of Chicago!

Note:  As always, I was not compensated by any of these businesses to make this review.